Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Gordon: Another pointless political defence decision

What the hell?

We're going to buy 22 more Chinooks? I know Gordon wants to demonstrate how he "gets" Defence all of a sudden (Hey, is there an election coming up?) but why the hell are we buying these?

Lets assume that we need them. If that's the case, we need them now. We need to get more helicopters out to Afghanistan as soon as possible. Instead we're buying these and getting them delivered in 2013. We're planning to start withdrawal next year. By 2013 we'll have much fewer troops in theatre and will probably have enough SH (Support Helicopter) assets in theatre to keep them all happy. Well, reasonably happy anyway. But these will not arrive in time to make the Military situation any better, all they will do is make Gordon look politically better.

But do we actually need them? I don't think so. I believe that Gordon is making a political decision that just demonstrates his complete lack of understanding of how the military works. He has been told that we don't have enough Helicopters in Afghanistan, so has decided to buy some more. Whilst this seems logical at first blush, it isn't. We don't have enough helicopters in Afghanistan because we don't have enough helicopters, it's because we don't have enough crews.

I'm told that you need roughly 5 crews to operate any given Chinook properly. That's 10 trained and qualified pilots for each airframe. We have 262 trained Chinook pilots. That means we can fly about 26 helicopters. We currently have about 46 Chinooks, of which 8 are being converted from the failed Mark 3 standard. We don't have anywhere near enough pilots to even run our current number of Chinooks. These airframes will sit in a hanger for most of their lives, unless we spend a hell of a lot of money quickly training up more pilots. Just to run these additional helicopters, we'll need about another 220 pilots, nearly the same number as we've already got trained. Where will the money come from to double the number of Chinook pilots? Where will the money come from to double the number of engineers and mechanics?

So, they won't arrive early enough and we can't use them when we get them but are we at least going to get a decent deal. Recently I looked at the Canadian purchase of 15 Chinooks for $1.5Bn, with ~$2Bn of support costs for 25+ years.

We're looking to buy 22 Airframes for £1Bn, though the deal hasn't been done and I seriously doubt it will for that amount. The Canadians are paying £61m per airframe, or £143m with support costs. If we can get ours for the same price, we'll be looking to get 16 helicopters, or if we buy all 22, we'll be paying £1.35Bn, a mere 35% over what we're estimating now.

With support costs that rises to £3.15Bn, 315% more than we're estimating. And that's not including Pilots, Mechanics, Engineers, Loadies and the rest of the people we'll need to run them. They'll drive the price up even further.

So, to summarise, Gordon is buying something we won't get soon enough if we were able to use them, which we're not. And he's not even being honest about how much it's going to cost us.

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